Retired Bridport skipper David Sales has been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) for his services to the local fishing industry and his work to help protect the marine environment in East Devon and Dorset, reports Phil Lockley.

Chosen in the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours list, David Sales has been a fisherman for over six decades. Now aged 83, he stepped ashore from his cove boat last year.

David Sales BEM.

David Sales BEM.

Together with his colleague and lifetime ally Ken Lynham of Portland, David Sales served on the Southern Sea Fisheries Committee, prior to the formation of Southern IFCA. The two inshore fishermen were a force to be reckoned with, fighting hard to protect the future of the local industry.

In the early 1960s, David Sales travelled to the northeastern USA and further north to Canada to study their ways of protecting lobster stocks, returning to lobby British authorities to introduce a bigger minimum size limit.

Armed with a bronze carapace gauge obtained from Massachusetts, his proposals to follow the USA and Canada, to protect juvenile lobsters around the shores of Britain, eventually met with success.

Throughout his fishing career, David Sales worked on coastal vessels of under 40ft in length, where his drive to conserve stocks and protect the environment grew stronger. His wish is for fishermen to develop better links with scientists, ‘to help towards commercial fishing becoming a long-term venture – a sustainable industry and one that may attract younger British crewmen’.

With the increasing threat from Covid-19, it is uncertain when he will officially receive his award. He told Fishing News: “Being awarded such an honour came as a surprise, after 63 years in the fishing industry. My time on the Sea Fisheries Committee, the Shellfish Association of Great Britain and other posts might have helped. Being awarded the BEM may be a mark of those years – a mark that I do appreciate.

“Taking part in forming the Lyme Bay Fisheries and Conservation Reserve is something that I’m proud of. Our mission is to forge links between fishermen, conservationists, regulators and scientists in order to maintain a healthy, productive and sustainable Marine Reserve within Lyme Bay – one that will benefit fishermen and conservationists alike. In my opinion we have achieved that; however, it isn’t to the liking of some scallopers, and I understand that. But managing fish and shellfish stocks creates long-term benefits for coastal communities around Lyme Bay, and I believe that the majority of Lyme Bay fishermen are behind the formation of the reserve.

David Sales spent his fishing life aboard inshore boats under 40ft – this one is the Gillian S, a Cygnus Marine GM 26, around 20 years ago.

David Sales spent his fishing life aboard inshore boats under 40ft – this one is the Gillian S, a Cygnus Marine GM 26, around 20 years ago.

“To me, the highlight of my career was the UK introduction of the lobster carapace gauge and the subsequent rise in the minimum size limit of 85mm to 87mm, giving lobsters the chance to breed at least once before capture.

“Catching lobster was the main part of my income. and not long after introducing the regulation, we started catching berried female lobsters – a wonderful sight. At last, the lobster stock was being given a chance to recover. Since then, in many areas around the UK, the minimum size has risen to 90mm, and that is another step forward.

“Spending time on the Southern Sea Fisheries Committee was also a large part of my life, and in my opinion an important move of that committee was to introduce a byelaw to prevent boats over 40m in length from fishing within its district. While it wasn’t to the liking of some fishermen, it was a godsend to the others – men working on much smaller boats, a type of boat set in the history of East Devon and Dorset for so many years – hundreds of years.

“For a multitude of reasons, those boats can now prosper, and I’m glad to have helped to make that possible.”

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